The Needles Batteries

Freshwater, United Kingdom

The Needles Batteries are two military batteries built above the Needles stacks to guard the West end of the Solent. The field of fire was from approximately West South West clockwise to Northeast and they were designed to defend against enemy ships.

The Old Battery was constructed between 1861 and 1863. It was equipped with six 7-inch Armstrong rifled breechloading guns. These were replaced by four 7-inch and two 9-inch rifled muzzle loaders in 1872, and six 9-inch rifled muzzle loaders in 1893. The 9 inch guns took a team of 9 men to load and fire. These guns fired projectiles weighing 116 kg. The 9-inch guns remained in place until 1903 when they were discarded by throwing them over the side of the cliff. These were later recovered and two are now on display at the Old Battery.

A deep ditch with a retractable bridge was dug into the chalk to protect the facility from ground attack from the island side. In 1885 a tunnel was dug towards the cliff face from the parade grounds. An elevator down to the beach was completed in 1887. Early searchlight experiments were conducted at the site between 1889 and 1892. The present observation post housing a searchlight was built in 1899. Just to the east of the Old Battery, at Hatherwood Point are the remains of Hatherwood Battery, built to defend the area alongside the Needles Battery.

A tunnel leads to a searchlight emplacement with good views towards the Needles lighthouse.

The Old and New Batteries were manned during the World Wars. German U-boats sank two ships off The Needles during World War I. This facility was also the site of early trials of anti-aircraft guns. In World War II, anti-aircraft guns defended the Isle of Wight against air attacks but repeated German air attacks necessitated improvements in the fortifications at the site. Troops trained for the D-Day landing on the neighbouring cliffs. After the war, the Ministry of Defence deactivated the batteries.

In the 1950s, the battery was used for testing the Blue Streak missile, as well as the Black Knight and Black Arrow satellite launch vehicles. Like the Old Battery, the New Battery has also been listed at Grade II. The surviving parts of the rocket testing facilities are a scheduled monument.

When the site came into the possession of the National Trust, it was decided to restore the Old Battery so that it could be opened to the general public. The National Trust Youth Group comprising local schoolchildren and teachers assisted in preparing the site for its official opening in 1982. The site is still managed by the National Trust and is open daily from mid-March to the end of October. It gives visitors an insight into how a Victorian battery would work and giving a glimpse into the life of a soldier based at the Battery during the Second World War. Along with a series of exhibition rooms and the tunnel there are a number of visitor facilities including a tearoom. The New Battery was opened to the public in 2004 and has a display on the history of the British rocket development between the 1950s and 1970s.

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Freshwater, United Kingdom
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Founded: 1861
Category: Castles and fortifications in United Kingdom

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4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Chris Gledhill (9 months ago)
It’s run by the national trust so free for members otherwise there’s an entry fee. Inside the battery you’ll find a museum, some old gigantic metal coastal defence guns, a tea room selling cream teas and sandwiches and ice cream and some toilets. There are excellent views of the needles from this place. There’s also an underground passageway you can descend down to get a closer look at the needles. Takes about an hour to explore all the rooms and exhibits of this old military site.
Dave Thomas (9 months ago)
The spectacular geology of the needles completely overshadows the wartime defences of the old and new batteries. The nearby Alum Bay cliffs are an added natural attraction. The on-site cafe was good, but a bit cramped. Don't miss the spiral staircase to the tunnel out to the searchlight viewpoint for the best views of the Needles.
Abby Heaton (9 months ago)
The battery itself was fine with some informative information but what made it great for me was the incredible views! Such a great view of the needles the wind was crazy but the beauty was worth it to us. We are National Trust members so it was free anyways really. The new battery was closed only open on Saturdays but you can walk around up there for free without buying tickets.
Kat Crane (10 months ago)
I'd skip straight past the 'Needles Attraction' and head up here. Cafe was small but had fab views and as is usually the case for a National Trust property - great scones (but disappointing sandwiches!). Not enough seating in the cafe and as it's across three levels it's hard to grab a table before ordering. You need to pay to enter the old battery but not the new. There's lots to read about - but even on a warm day it was very windy up there so definitely worth taking a jumper!
Holly O'Sullivan (12 months ago)
Brilliant visit here over the weekend. The views are brilliant and plenty of history around the place to look at and read about. The staff were extremely friendly and welcoming which made the visit even more pleasant. There is a bus from the bottom which you can get for £3 return as a national trust member which we did making it easy to visit! Would definitely return.
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